Sneak Peek: The All New Wilderness Systems 'Offshore' Fishing Kayak E-mail
Written by Allen Bushnell   
Monday, 03 February 2014 00:00

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Kayak Fishing Magazine Publisher Allen Sansano and Editor Allen (Bushy) Bushnell recently had a sneak preview and test paddle of the new Wilderness Systems Offshore Series fishing kayaks. The design is not finalized yet, with modification possible after the current round of trials, but the design style is set enough that we're able to offer up our overall impressions, at least for the parts that are more mature. For the parts that are not final, we'll reserve comment for another day. Our testing grounds were the choppy waters off Doran Beach in Bodega Bay CA. We had an offshore wind of 12 knots or so, and a medium but incessant chop to work the boats on.

Wilderness has long been known as a leader in the kayak fishing industry with their Tarpon Series serving a generation of saltwater anglers and the Ride Series being a preference for many inland and inshore anglers. The Tarpons are sleek and very fast low-volume boats, but Wilderness is looking towards the next generation of saltwater craft. The target is a bigger boat with more usable deck space that's capable of handling tougher conditions more comfortably. While the prototype design will likely be tweaked prior to production, both Sansano and I were impressed with the platforms as tested.

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These boats look radically different than anything else in the Wilderness Systems lineup. Higher gunnels and a pronounced upswept and bulbous bow give it a solid appearance and suggest a superior ability to handle choppy conditions with a feeling of security. Plenty of deck space is augmented with an innovative storage option and plenty of room for tackle box, live baitwell and a big stringer of fish.

On the water, the new kayaks, both a 15.5' version and a 14' version, paddled very well. Sansano's first impressions: "Pretty good glide on both of them, actually really good glide, higher than average." Like most boats over 15 feet the longer version is a bit "sticky" Sansano added, "The 15.5' one definitely needs a rudder. Without a rudder it took me about 11-12 paddle strokes just to go 180 on it. I was using just normal sweep turn strokes, versus about 8-9 paddle strokes on the shorter one."

Both kayaks have extremely impressive secondary stability, and both were decently fast paddlers. Sansano took the awesome  stability to the limit, proclaiming "I was able to lean way over on it and just plant myself on a sculling brace on that thing. I was over far enough that at times I was taking water over the rails without fear of tipping. And I was even able to stand up on it." Very impressive!

The 15.5' kayak was slightly faster, but the 14' held its own. My impression is it felt just as fast as the longer one but with different feel to it as it was a little more "manageable." The bow of the 14 appeared to sit a little lower in the water and also had less hull slap. The 14' will be a great all-around offshore kayak, with the 15.5' offering a little more speed and a little more room. With the high sides, however, we couldn't help but notice a slight wind cocking in both versions.

The integral seat is dreamy, as we've come to expect from the Phase 3 Airpro, it is very comfortable and easily adjusted as were the foot pegs on both the ruddered 15.5 and the un-ruddered 14. The solid engagement on the foot peg tracks were easily disengaged for adjustment.

I wonder what this is for!!!

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Rob Knoles, Wilderness Systems Pro Staff in Northern California, tested these boats at Bodega Bay with us. Rob's impressions were pretty much in line with KFM's. "The kayak is super stable and will be great for those rough days on the ocean. At 30 inches wide, it has the stability of a much wider boat. The width makes it easy to paddle verses a wider boat. Those 'not so experienced ocean paddlers' will feel quite comfortable in choppy conditions.

"The new kayak tracks very well and with the rudder, it turns like a long boat should. Slide Trax on the rails make rigging an easy thing to do. The Phase3 AirPro seat is really comfortable for an "out of the box" seat. No upgrades are needed for comfort. Both boats feature a very dry ride, even in sloppy ocean conditions."

From the East Coast, Florida Wilderness Systems Pro Staff Capt. Jason Stock got out of his Tarpon 160 long enough to give a test paddle himself as well.

"My first impression when I saw the boat was that it had a ton of room for storage, for more gear and also is a super stable platform to fish from. The tracking was excellent and it paddled with ease. Also, when stand-up paddling, the kayak was extremely stable. 

“I spend a ton of time standing up, poling the flats looking for fish. In this new kayak, I feel that someone with less experience would be able to stand and paddle the kayak without flipping over. With the longer kayaks, especially while fishing, a rudder makes for an incredible feature and tool for fishing and paddling.

"It's a great fishing kayak with options to carry more gear such as cast net and a live well. The deck set-up is wide open for storing as much gear as you can bring and also would be great for camping trips. I tested the kayak on inshore waters targeting redfish. It was great for standing up and poling and sight casting the redfish. I see this kayak being ideal for bigger guys that are concerned with stability and want a great tracking longer kayak. This boat will also be perfect for doing a couple-day camping trip carrying no shortage of gear. I am looking forward to putting this kayak to work in my guide fleet!"

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Wilderness is definitely on the right track with these boats and this line. They have a right to be proud and I predict we'll see a lot of these boats on the offshore waters these kayaks were designed for, where paddling conditions are often less than ideal.

 

 

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